Karnataka votes

No matter who wins, the Karnataka Assembly election is set to redraw the political landscape at the national level prior to the 2019 Lok Sabha poll. True, elections are due later this year in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, but the Karnataka verdict could colour these too. Winning Karnataka is essential for the BJP’s plans to present itself as a truly pan-Indian party, one with a presence in the south. It will also provide a fillip to its unrealistic boast of creating a Congress-mukt Bharat. For the Congress, Karnataka is critical. It is the only really large State where it is in power and the only one in the south, if we discount Puducherry. It is nowhere close to being a contender in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, and currently is a poor second to the TRS in Telangana and the LDF in Kerala. A loss in Karnataka will be perceived as a serious setback to the Congress’s plans to mount a challenge to the BJP next year. For the BJP, a failure to wrest Karnataka will be difficult to ingest. As the principal opposition party that won a majority of the Lok Sabha seats from Karnataka in 2014, the BJP was the front-runner until the last bend. Over the last year, there is a perception that it has lost some of its earlier connect with the southern State, allowing Chief Minister Siddaramaiah to stage a fightback. With regional sentiments running high, the consolidation of the Hindu vote is not happening in favour of the BJP; indeed, Mr. Siddaramaiah has shrewdly and cynically fanned linguistic and caste emotions to paint the BJP as a pro-Hindi party opposed to regional sentiments. To this end, the Congress pushed ahead with its plans for a separate Karnataka flag, and the status of a religion for the Lingayat sect.

The return of B.S. Yeddyurappa to the party has increased the BJP’s vote-share in the northern and central parts of the State. But as the party’s chief ministerial candidate, the Congress has been given a handle to raise the corruption bogey given the cases he was embroiled in; at the same time, his candidature has diminished the force of the charges against the Congress government on this very ground. The big question is whether there exists a latent anti-incumbency sentiment that the BJP can tap into. The one certainty about this election is that the Janata Dal (Secular) will come in third; whether it is in a position to play king-maker in a hung Assembly remains to be seen. Although Mr. Siddaramaiah betrayed political insecurity by contesting two seats and secured a seat for his son, he managed to keep the focus on Karnataka and prevent the election from being transformed into a presidential-style national face-off between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi. There is something to be said for this, but in what opinion polls suggest will be a really tight race, all bets seem to be off.

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Printable version | Sep 24, 2021 11:01:38 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/karnataka-votes/article23857172.ece

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